Easterners, Westerners argue over wilderness bill
by Mary Clare Jalonick
WASHINGTON – Eastern and Western members of the U.S. House clashed sharply Thursday over legislation that would designate almost 20 million acres of Western land as wilderness.
Western members angrily criticized the bill, which is sponsored by two members from the East Coast – Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. It would give a new level of protection to lands and rivers in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
In testimony before a House Natural Resources subcommittee, Maloney said the bill would only apply to current federal lands.
“These are lands that belong to all American taxpayers,” she said. “We all have a right and responsibility to protect our precious resources.”
Declaring land as wilderness, the highest form of federal protection, usually bans logging, oil exploration and other development. It also generally prevents motorized access, limiting recreation on the land.
Supporters have called the wilderness bill an “ecosystem-based” plan meant to transcend political boundaries and replace natural resource jobs with others tilted toward restoration.
Western Republicans on the committee challenged Maloney and Shays, saying they shouldn’t be interfering with land so far away from their own districts.
Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, the top Republican on the subcommittee, called the bill “absurd” and “stunning,” comparing the legislation to a Soviet-style land grab.
“The issue is the division between East and West. It’s a division between urban and rural,” he said. “Most people here just don’t get it.”
Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana testified before the committee, bringing with him several boxes of letters from constituents who had written him in opposition to the bill. He said he had heard from more than 7,000 Montanans in less than a week when he asked for comment on the legislation.
He said the legislation would ruin successful local efforts that have brought different interests together to find solutions on environmental issues.
“This is not the way folks do business in the West,” he said.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., also blasted the legislation, along with Deputy Forest Service Chief Joel Holtrop and Deputy Bureau of Land Management Director Henri Bisson, who both said the administration opposes the bill.
Some Westerners are supporters, including Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the subcommittee chairman, and Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.
A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she is also backing the bill, saying its consideration is long overdue. The bill has 115 co-sponsors.
“The speaker supports the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, which will protect this unique and priceless ecosystem,” spokesman Brendan Daly said in an e-mail.
Singer Carole King, who lives in Idaho, testified in favor of the bill, saying she has been working to pass it for 17 years.
“It is important to remember that these are national lands,” she said, adding in her testimony that the “Northern Rockies ecosystem is America’s Sistine Chapel.”
Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Democrats, expressed doubts, echoing Rehberg’s comments that local efforts have been successful.
“This bill misses the mark by a long shot,” Baucus said. “Montanans don’t take kindly to people on the East Coast telling us how to manage our lands.”
Tester said he supports “programs that ensure that Montana’s ranchers, outdoorsmen, the logging industry, and conservationists all have a seat at the table.”
A Republican candidate for Montana attorney general, Tim Fox, even chimed in Thursday, saying the bill would limit access to hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities in those areas.
Members of the Wyoming delegation have also criticized the bill. Republican Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi both oppose it, as does Republican Rep. Barbara Cubin.
“It seems like every year legislators, whose districts are nowhere near Wyoming, come up with a bill telling Wyoming and other rural states how to manage our land,” Enzi said. “Rural lawmakers won’t stand for it and will continue to deny such efforts.”
A service of the Associated Press (AP)
Wilderness bill debate boils down to East versus West
by Noelle Straub, Missoulian D.C. Bureau
WASHINGTON – A longstanding rift between East Coast and Western lawmakers erupted again Thursday as a congressional subcommittee heard testimony on a sweeping bill that would designate as wilderness 23 million acres in five Western states.
Supporters of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act noted that the bill only affects public lands and said it would protect vital wildlife corridors in the West. They considered it a victory simply that a hearing took place on the bill, which has been reintroduced every year since 1993.
Opponents said the bill would not allow for local input on the areas designated and that it would be a top-down federal mandate. No House members from affected districts support the legislation, opponents told a sub-panel of the House Natural Resources Committee.
The act would designate as a wilderness nearly 7 million acres in Montana, 9.5 million acres in Idaho, 5 million acres in Wyoming, 750,000 acres in eastern Oregon and 500,000 acres in eastern Washington. Included in those totals is more than 3 million acres in Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton national parks.
The bill’s two main sponsors, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., testified first. Maloney noted that the bill has 115 co-sponsors in both parties from 35 different states. She also said hundreds of grassroots organizations, environmental groups and businesses in the West support it.
“It has deep and strong support from residents in the affected areas,” she testified.
Maloney emphasized that the bill would not affect private land and said it would protect an entire functioning ecosystem. She also said it would create jobs by employing more than 2,000 workers to restore areas damaged by road building or logging.
She said accusations that the bill takes a top-down approach “could not be further from the truth.” She said local scientists, economists and activists in the affected states helped write the bill, but could not find any of their own legislators with enough vision to introduce it, so sought other lawmakers to do so.
The bill “would not be here today except for local leaders,” she said.
Shays said the debate should be on the bill itself and not on the motives of the East Coast lawmakers who sponsored it. He noted that the lands are owned by all Americans, not just those living next door.
“Why would I care about the Northern Rockies living in Connecticut?” Shays asked. “For the same reasons Teddy Roosevelt cared, living in New York state.”
Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., testified against the bill, saying a blanket wilderness designation is a “truly bad way” of managing land. He said he received more than 7,000 petitions from Montanans about the bill in one week and that 96 percent opposed it.
Rehberg said sound land management decisions are best achieved through cooperation on the local level, citing the Blackfoot Challenge and the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership as the right way to designate wilderness.
“Unfortunately, the (act) threatens the Montana way of making land management decisions and has the potential to stop these collaborative partnerships in their tracks,” he said. “It’s not the way folks do business in the West.”
He said he would defer to Maloney on what should be done with ground zero in New York and that he hoped she would “accord me the same respect” about Western lands.
Maloney said she wants to work to achieve more public access to the lands.
Officials from the Agriculture and Interior departments also testified in opposition to the bill – which they said would not allow public involvement in land management decisions.
Wilderness designation would reduce their ability to pre-treat forests to reduce wildfire risks, they said. And some areas in the bill already have been leased for energy development, they said, which would create conflicts.
Singer Carole King, who lives in Idaho, and officials from several conservation groups testified for the bill. King said no one attacks the science or the economics behind the bill, but that opponents complain instead about a top-down approach and Easterners telling Westerners what to do. But it takes national legislation to accomplish national goals, she said, and the bill must address the entire ecosystem.
“It’s not about political boundaries; it’s about science,” she said. “This is an ecosystem bill.”
Bruce Vincent of Libby, executive director of Communities for a Great Northwest, and Noel Williams of the Montana Coalition of Forest Counties opposed the bill. Vincent said the bill would act like a “Scud missile” coming down on the table where local leaders work to find consensus on managing lands and that areas would lose jobs because of reduced logging and recreation. Williams said local voices should be given the most weight in land policy decisions.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., also opposes the legislation as a top-down approach.
Congressional panel debates controversial wilderness legislation
by Scott McMillion, Chronicle Staff Writer
A congressional subcommittee spent three hours Thursday debating a controversial bill that would grant wilderness status to 23 million acres of land in Montana and four other Northern Rockies states. The House National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee held the first hearing on the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act since 1994. The bill has major political opposition, in part from Westerners who believe the bill replaces local initiatives with a Washington-driven imperative, like a “missile flying in from afar,” as one opponent put it. But supporters maintained they have science and economics on their side. Folk singer Carole King, an Idaho resident and a longtime wilderness supporter, said the proposed protections would stop wasteful logging practices and create jobs through restoration projects. “It’s not about political boundaries,” King said. “It’s about science.” But Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., said, “NREPA threatens the Montana way of making land-management decisions.” He cited two examples—projects on the Blackfoot River and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest—of Montanans working together to decide how to manage lands, using something other than a “mythical, ‘the-way-it-was’ image.” He also said his mailbag was telling him the bill had little support in Montana. After soliciting comments last week, he said 96 percent of 7,100 respondents told him “they think this bill, this idea, this plan, is wrong.”
The Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies is the primary backer of NREPA and executive director Michael Garrity said thousands of individuals and businesses support the bill.
The bill would designate 7 million acres of wilderness in Montana, along with 9.5 million acres in Idaho, 5 million acres in Wyoming, 750,000 acres in easternOregon and 500,000 acres in eastern Washington.
It also would bestow Wild and Scenic River status on 1,800 miles of streams and set up new land-management categories for corridors between wilderness areas.
Those corridors are critical components, according to University of Utah ecologist William Newmark. He said the world is losing a species every two minutes and refuges like Yellowstone and Glacier national parks aren’t big enough. Plus, global warming could force mass movements of wildlife seeking new habitats.
NREPA is an “important and innovative approach to conservation,” he said, because it relies on science instead of political borders. However, political borders underpinned much of the debate. Bruce Vincent, a multiple-use advocate from Libby, agreed that all Americans have a stake in federal land. They also have a stake in crumbling, crime-ridden federal housing projects in the Bronx, he said, but Northern Rockies citizens leave those debates to representatives from that area. NREPA “acts as a scud missile flying in from afar,” he said. The bill has 115 co-sponsors in the U.S. House but none of them are from districts directly affected by the measure. That’s because, King said, “None of them had the vision to sponsor it.” The primary sponsors are Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Rep. Chris Shays, R- Conn. The subcommittee took no action on the bill. It will be up to Chairman Rep. Raul, Grijalva, D-N.M. to decide whether to schedule further hearings.
Public Lands: East, West clash over 24M-acre Northern Rockies wilderness bill
Friday, October 19, 2007
by Dan Berman, E&E Daily senior reporter
Environmentalists have an uphill battle in their effort to convince Congress to pass legislation that would set aside more than 24 million acres of public lands in the Northern Rockies, beginning with the Bush administration and Western lawmakers who oppose the measure.
At stake with H.R. 1975 is the future management of the Northern Rockies ecosystem. The bill from Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Chris Shays (R-Conn.) would establish 24.3 million acres of new wilderness lands and declare 1,886 miles of river segments as wild and scenic, the largest single such designations in the lower 48 states in U.S. history.
But Western Republicans representing the affected states oppose the bill. They accused their Eastern counterparts of unfairly trying to close off public lands to timber and natural resources development at a House National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee yesterday.
“It’s a grassroots movement, but there are no elected officials in these areas supporting this,” said subcommittee ranking member Rob Bishop (R-Utah).
Reps. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash), Bill Sali (R-Idaho) and Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) all oppose the effort as well.
The administration, which has endorsed much smaller, site-specific wilderness measures, also opposes this effort. H.R. 1975 is a “broad-brush approach to wilderness designation lacks the local input and consensus-building that were essential ingredients in previous wilderness bills supported by this administration,” said Henri Bisson, deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management.
Carole King, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer/songwriter and Idaho environmentalist, noted opponents didn’t attack the economic or scientific arguments made by wilderness supporters. They instead questioned the level of local support, despite a long list of interest groups across the West in favor of the proposal, she said.
The lack of local member support should not be an indication the measure is universally opposed in the West, King said after the hearing.
“It’s hard to go to local officials when they’re being lobbied by timber interests who embrace the status quo,” she said.
Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), one of the 115 cosponsors of H.R. 1975, said the lack of local member support is a concern.
“This is a first step and is part of a continued discussion and debate, as we should have,” Rahall said in an interview. “We will work with all interested parties. They’re certainly an interested party.”
Cosponsor Shays, a Connecticut Republican who is a consistent Democratic election target, said Westerners should not question the motives behind the bill. “I don’t think this legislation has a bit to do with whether or I win re-election or not,” Shays said.
As the Bush administration and other Republicans often do when supporting environmental interests, Shays cited the legacy of former President Theodore Roosevelt, who helped protect public lands with the Antiquities Act in 1906. “Did Teddy Roosevelt make a mistake? Am I missing something here?” Shays asked. “The guy lived in New York and protected the headwaters of three major rivers. Was he wrong?”
There should be plenty of time to work on opponents, as Parks Subcommittee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) indicated a markup is not likely until next year.
At more than 24 million acres, Grijalva acknowledged the size of the wilderness proposal could be an initial stumbling block but said he intends to move forward. “When you hear 20 million [acres], 18 million, 3,000 miles, there’s a sticker-shock attached to it,” Grijalva told E&E Daily. “While the size might appear to be overwhelming, there appears to be good science behind it. The size to me is not a reason not to deal with this legislation seriously.”
Yesterday’s hearing was intended to jump-start discussion on the bill after the 13-year layoff and not designed simply to placate environmental groups, Grijalva added. He pledged to address concerns such as firefighting and forest management, although philosophical differences about the benefits of wilderness designations will always be present.
Back after all these years
The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act was first introduced in 1992 and hearings were held under Democratic control in 1994, but it received no consideration by GOP leaders of the Resources Committee during the next 12 years.
The bill is designed to protect habitat of grizzly bears, caribou, elk, bison, salmon and other species in the Northern Rockies, and includes provisions to restore more than 6,000 miles of damaged or unused roads and establish biological connecting corridors between large parcels of federal lands.
H.R. 1975 would designate about 9.5 million acres of land in Idaho as wilderness, 7 million acres in Montana, 5 million acres in Wyoming, 750,000 acres in eastern Oregon, and 500,000 acres in easternWashington.
While most of the proposed wilderness designations incorporate national forest lands currently protected under the Clinton-era roadless rule, sponsors have added 3 million acres of potential wilderness areas in Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton national parks identified as suitable for wilderness by the National Park Service.
Forest Service Deputy Chief Joel Holtrop said the bill subverts the current public involvement process used in creating national forest plans and labeling potential wilderness sites. The administration is also concerned about the effect on current species conservation efforts, livestock grazing, oil and gas and mining claims, and the potential for new private inholdings that could take years to resolve.
The concept of a large, multi-state wilderness bill is not inherently misguided, Holtrop said, but it makes things more difficult to spot errors or address unforseen problems in the legislation.
Advocates don’t want to break up the bill into five state-specific bills because local compromises could jeopardize the larger goal of protecting the entire Northern Rockies ecosystem, they argue.
“When you talk about an ecosystem, there’s a greater good involved,” King said after the hearing. “These collaborative efforts have a place — I’m not sure they have a place in an ecosystem bill.”
Supporters of the bill also cited the potential cost-savings from the legislation.
“We all recognize and agree that as far as logging on federal lands goes, it only provides jobs because the government and the taxpayers provide millions and millions of dollars of subsidies to the timber industry,” Maloney said. “These forests are money losers.”
Michael Garrity, executive director for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said it would cost about $130 million to conduct the habitat restoration sought in the legislation, money offset by the $375 million the Forest Service would spend on logging roads over the next decade. The Congressional Budget Office is currently analyzing the potential costs of the bill.
H.R. 1975 “is classic environmental justice at its worst,” responded Libby, Mont., logger Bruce Vincent, attributing current economic instability and high unemployment rates to environmentalist lawsuits in the 1990s that have reduced the flow of timber from national forests.
As for public ownership, Vincent said as a taxpayer, he has an interest in federally funded public housing projects in New York but wouldn’t presume to know enough to intervene in an issue across the country.
“It wouldn’t be right,” Vincent said. “The local people would have to have a larger say in the management of those places than I could ever have.”